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Design, Computing and Complexity

The theme is motivated by the aim of exploring and bringing together advances in design, computing and complexity in order to:
• understand and support the creative process of design teams and individuals
• develop innovative ideas and create new technological solutions
The theme recognises that interdisciplinary research is important for working with the complexity of reality and that collaboration between designers, computer scientists and engineers is key for the creation of innovative digital products and services.

The theme is divided into three subthemes:

Design and Computing
Design thinking skills are central to the ability of individuals and firms to create truly innovative digital products and services. Design is the creative problem solving activity that underlies the ability of individual and teams to create functional artefacts in order to satisfy certain needs or desires. Design is not only about solving problems however, it is also (and perhaps mainly) about recognising and generating opportunities, novel ideas, and creating the conditions for realising or embodying these ideas into products. Design thinking is thus important for a wide range of creative industries: from software design and web application development companies, to game design and ambient technology businesses.

Such industries face a number of challenges related to design. Designers, computer scientists, software developers and engineers work together to understand, evaluate and generate innovations related to form, interface, human-computer interaction, user experience, but also to devise new development processes, and new ways of communication, branding and product diffusion. One the one hand, it is imperative to understand and support the cognitive processes, methods but also work environment of people developing digital products. On the other hand it is also imperative to develop digital technologies that are creative themselves; that includes for instance digital technologies for creating personalized products, or adapt to user needs.

This research theme is aimed at exploring and developing new relationships between design and computing. Possible projects under this theme include:
• Computer-based form generation
• Understanding and creating new design processes and methods for innovative digital products
• Exploring the value of design thinking in technology-based businesses and organisations
• Understanding how designers and computer scientists work together
• Exploring design thinking computationally (computational models of design cognition)
• Studying individual and social creativity
• Understanding the forces of sustainability and innovation in the design of digital products

Technologies for collaboration and innovation
Novel products, services and systems today, are hardly ever the result of an individual genius working alone; they are the result of groups of people who need to work together at all stages of development (from concept through to realisation, production and distribution). However, this process of team interaction and collaboration is far from straightforward, with multiple problems arising due to diverse (and often conflicting) goals, expertise and modes of practice. Team collaboration is often mediated by physical and technological artefacts and tools, from paper, to whiteboards, and from email, to advanced software such as CAD, virtual worlds or CSCW systems. The embedding of computer technology in team collaboration may have cognitive effects (relating to our ability to understand, explore and solve problems) but also social effects (relating to aspects of communication and organisation of work). Knowledge and understanding of the process of team collaboration and the role technological artefacts play is essential not only for those who participate in complex projects, but also for those who manage and lead product and service design businesses and organisations.

Additionally, computer supported collaboration has become increasingly important in the education sector. With an increasing number of further and higher education colleges and universities adopting distance education technologies, effective facilitation of social interaction and learning through computer technologies is becoming critical. This is all the more critical in subjects such as engineering, product design and architecture, which are traditionally taught in a studio setting allowing students to learn from each other as well as their tutors.

Potential projects under this theme include investigating:
• How can technology support or facilitate social interaction and creativity in teams?
• How does computer supported collaboration influence collective problem solving?
• What makes different work practices successful, and what is the role of technology?
• What are the opportunities for innovation in team collaboration with the use of new technologies such virtual worlds, social networking sites, etc?
• How can computer technologies and tools be used to support social learning?

Complexity theories and methods in design
Complexity science has emerged as a new scientific paradigm, offering new ways of understanding the physical, social and technological world. It takes a holistic view of phenomena trying to understand how components and systems at different levels interact with each other leading to the emergence of novel, global structures, behaviours and functions. Complexity science offers theories for understanding complex phenomena, but also offers (computational) methods and concepts for analysing and synthesising complex products or systems.

The word complexity can be seen and used in four different ways: a) as a problem related to uncertainty, unpredictability and risk, which we need to manage and reduce, b) as an intrinsic, but not necessarily negative, quality of reality that we need to model and understand c) as a term associated with a number of computer methodologies, which we can use to explore alternatives, solve complex problems but also model, represent, visualise and generally support complex processes and tasks, and d) as a term associated with a new theoretical approach in science which helps us approach reality and define new practices.

We are particularly looking for research projects that aim to work on the interface between complexity science and design. This might include:
• The empirical study of phenomena such as phase transitions or self-organization in cognitive systems and the human brain but also in socio-technical networks such as the Internet.
• The application of complexity theories and methods in order to analyze and understand design processes and products
• The development of methods for managing complexity in complex teams and projects
• The application of methodologies such as evolutionary algorithms, cellular automata and multi-agent systems to generate and evaluate design solutions.
• The development of theories about socio-technical systems based on complexity theoretic concepts

Contact: If you wish to explore any of these sub-themes and ideas please contact Katerina Alexiou (k.alexiou ‘at’ and Theodore Zamenopoulos (t.zamenopoulos ‘at’

Alexiou, K. (2010) ‘Coordination and emergence in design’, Codesign 6(2): 75-97.

Alexiou, K., Johnson, J. and Zamenopoulos, T. (2010) ‘Embracing Complexity in Design: Emerging Perspectives and Opportunities’ in Designing for the 21st Century Volume 2: Research Methods & Findings, Inns, T. (ed), Gower Ashgate: UK.

Alexiou, K., Zamenopoulos, T., Johnson, J. and Gilbert, S. (2009) ‘Exploring the neurological basis of design cognition using brain imaging: some preliminary results’, Design Studies, 30(6): 623–647.

Alexiou, K. (2009) ‘Complexity and Coordination in Collaborative Design’, in Embracing Complexity in Design, Alexiou, K., Johnson, J., and Zamenopoulos, T. (eds), Routledge: UK, pp 73–93.

Alexiou, K., Johnson, J. and Zamenopoulos, T. eds (2009) Embracing Complexity in Design, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.

Alexiou, K. and Zamenopoulos, T. (2008) ‘Design as a social process: a complex systems perspective’, Futures, 40(6): 586-595.

Arias, E., H. Eden, et al. (2000). ‘Transcending the individual human mind - creating shared understanding through collaborative design.’ ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction 7(1): 84-113.

Fischer, G. (2000). ‘Symmetry of ignorance, social creativity and meta-design.’ Knowledge Based Systems 13(4): 527-537.

Fischer, G. and K. Nakakoji (1997). ‘Computational environments supporting creativity in the context of lifelong learning and design.’ Knowledge Based Systems 10(1): 21-28.

Gilbert, S., Zamenopoulos, T., Alexiou, K. and Johnson, J. (2010) ‘Involvement of right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in ill-structured design cognition: An fMRI study’ Brain Research, 1312: 79-88.

Johnson, J., Alexiou, K, Creigh-Tyte, A., Chase, S., Duffy, A., Eckert, C., Gascoigne, D., Kumar, B., Mitleton-Kelly, E., Petry, M., Qin, S-F, Robertson, A., Rzevski, G., Teymur, N., Thompson, A., Young, R., Willis, M., Zamenopoulos, T., (2008) ‘Embracing complexity in design’, in Designing for the 21st Century: Questions and Insights, Innes, T. (ed), Gower Ashgate.

Johnson, J. H., Alexiou, K. and Zamenopoulos, T. (2006) ‘Embracing complexity in Design and Adaptive Computing’, In ACDM’06 Conference Proceedings, Parmee I. (ed).

Schadewitz, N. and Zamenopoulos, T. (2009) ‘Towards an online design studio: a study of social networking in design distance learning’, In Proceedings of International Association of Societies of Design Research (IASDR) October 18-22, 2009, Seoul, Korea.

Zamenopoulos, T. (2009) 'The mathematical conditions of design ability: a complexity theoretic view' In Embracing Complexity in Design, Johnson, J., Alexiou, K. and Zamenopoulos, T. (eds), Routledge, pp 95–119.

Zamenopoulos, T. and Alexiou, K. (2005) ‘Linking Design and Complexity: a review’, In ECCS’05 Satellite Workshop Proceedings: Embracing Complexity in Design, Open University: UK, pp 91-102.

Zamenopoulos, T. and Alexiou, K. (2005) ‘The Problem of Design in Complexity Research’, In ECCS’05 Conference Proceedings, Bourgine, P., Kps, F., Schoenauer, M. (eds), pp 137-138.

Zamenopoulos, T. and Alexiou, K. (2003) ‘Computer-aided creativity and learning in distributed cooperative human-machine networks’. In Digital Design: research and practice, Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on CAAD Futures 2003, Chiu, M-L., Tsou, J-Y., Kvan, T., Morozumi, M. and T. Jeng (eds), Kluwer Academic Publishers: Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp 191-201

Zamenopoulos, T. and Alexiou, K. (2003) 'Structuring the plan design process as a coordination problem: the paradigm of distributed learning control coordination'. In Advanced Spatial Analysis: the CASA Book of GIS, P. Longley and M. Batty (eds), ESRI Press: US, pp 407-426.

Zamenopoulos, T. and Alexiou, K. (2002) ‘Learning to be creative and the creative memory – a discussion motivated by a control-based coordination model’. In Learning and Creativity Workshop notes, Seventh International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Design (AID’02), Cambridge: UK.